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Saakashvili May Be Forced To Seek Asylum In United States, Legislator Says

Former Georgian President and Odesa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili (file photo)
Former Georgian President and Odesa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili (file photo)

Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president and Ukrainian governor who was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship on July 26, may be forced to seek asylum in the United States, a Ukrainian legislator said.

Saakashvili said on Facebook that he was visiting the United States when Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko stripped him of his citizenship, but he did not indicate whether he would seek to stay there.

The Ukrainian legislator from Poroshenko's faction in parliament, Serhiy Leshchenko, said on Facebook that if Saakashvili seeks to return to Ukraine, he would face extradition to Georgia to face charges for alleged crimes that occurred during his presidency.

Poroshenko had appointed Saakashvili, a reformist who became president of Georgia during the 2003 Rose Revolution but later fell out of favor, to be governor of the Odesa region in 2015. Poroshenko saw him at that time as an ally.

But Saakashvili resigned the post last year, complaining of official obstruction of his anticorruption efforts.

Saakashvili's supporters on July 26 called Poroshenko's action to strip Saakashvili of Ukrainian citizenship an "unconstitutional" reprisal for Saakashvili's criticisms.

Poroshenko offered no public explanation for the move, but Leshchenko said late on July 26 that the president's intention was to force Saakashvili to stay out of the country and seek refuge in the United States.

"Saakashvili cannot return to Ukraine even physically, as he will be detained at Boryspil [Airport] upon arrival and will be extradited to Georgia," Leshchenko said.

Since Saakashvili cannot return to Ukraine and is in danger of being extradited to Georgia, Poroshenko's decision was designed to force Saakashvili "to take an asylum in America and forget about Ukrainian politics," Leshchenko said.

The move derails any chance Saakashvili could seek office in Ukraine, though the party he formed is seeking early elections there. Under Ukrainian law, only Ukrainian citizens can lead political parties or be elected to parliament.

Other lawmakers in Poroshenko's bloc criticized the president's decision.

"Stripping Mikheil Saakashvili of Ukrainian citizenship is the most stupid thing that one could think up, a sign of weakness not befitting a president of Ukraine," said legislator Mustafa Nayyem.

"One may disagree with Mikheil, some may not like him, but overall Saakashvili is on our side of civilized barricades," he said."In the end, the winner in the squabble between the two presidents could be anyone, but not Ukraine."

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and Interfax

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